Nikki Rafie and Helene Hutchinson met with Shalane Flanagan in her home in Portland, Oregon, in early November to congratulate her on her amazing running career and to primarily talk with her about her next opportunity coaching elite runners.
To highlight her running career, Shalane has been an amazing runner since high school, as a two-time winner of the Footlocker XC (before NXN existed!), three-time state of Massachusetts XC all-state performances and numerous track records. She ran at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill where she won national XC titles in 2002 and 2003 and multiple track accolades. Post collegiately she raced and held records in the 3k to the marathon, made four Olympic teams, running the 5k in 2004, earning an Olympic silver in the 2008 10k and placing 10th and then 6th in the 2012 and 2016 marathons respectively.
Most recently, Shalane won the 2017 NYC Marathon, the first female American winner since 1977. This just touches the surface of her talent, accolades, and impact on running.
Over the past several months, Shalane TV commentated two globally watched running events – the INEOS 1:59 Challenge and NYC Marathon. When asked about this experience, Shalane talked about how she really enjoys TV and loved talking about other people’s running.
“It’s one of those things that never in a million years I thought I’d be into, yet I really love it. I actually love the investigative side, the media side and doing the homework on the athletes and figuring out how their training is going, their mindset and all the nuances and studying them… And it’s fun to stay in the sport, have a contribution and it not be about my running.
There are not very many female commentators or female coaches so I feel a need to step up to the plate and not just shy away into the background. It’s time to step up and use that knowledge, then showcase as more women may be interested in commentating and coaching. Until you see it you don’t know it’s a reality or a viable option for a career.”
As she moves into coaching elite athletes, she humbly recognizes that her insights are limited right now. She feels like she has been on a bit of an internship this past year, knowing when she ran NYC in 2017, that coaching is what she intended to do next. Very exciting for us all!
You just recently announced your retirement from competitive racing, why now and was it a hard decision to make?
There were a variety of factors that went into the decision and I gave myself a lot of time the whole year since my last race. I’ve known since the 2016 Olympics that this was something I really wanted to do yet I just didn’t know the timing. I wanted this to be intuitive and not forced. I realize that it’s a blessing to be able to decide when you retire.
I realized that I was more into the athletes I was training with, their results and their training, than I was my own. That was a sign. So this was a pretty easy decision. I had this desire in the past couple of years to have one more big moment beyond getting an Olympic medal. When I got it in New York, I just felt like I was very much at peace with everything I had done. I felt like I had done it all and I could keep going, but I actually feel like I have more to give now in these new roles than I do with running.
Like with any job, you feel that you have maximized it and now need a bigger challenge. How do I become a world class coach in an area where there are not many women? That’s a brand new big challenge.
So in a roundabout way it was a variety of factors. I knew it was coming over the past couple of years, which made it a little easier to transition. It was in stages and it wasn’t forced. Everyone was very encouraging to have me to wait to make sure. There was no pressure to move on in any capacity. I wasn’t pushed. If anything, it was like ‘you should keep running’. And even my teammates were like what? You are not going to keep running?’ So, it’s nice to leave on the terms of people wanting more instead of ‘oh my gosh, is she still here?’ It’s kind of a different vibe which is kind of fun.
Was coaching something you’ve thought about more recently or throughout your career?
When I first got into running, I thought that coaching would be something I’d be into. I thought that it’s maybe the next natural step. But, it never resonated as much as until a friend, another one of the Bowerman Women, was having a tremendous amount of injuries and set backs. It was really rough for her and I needed to convince her to stay in the sport. She was ready to quit. Ready to be done. Then she worked through it, had a phenomenal season in which she went from having the lowest of expectations to earning a medal at the World Championships! I had been a part of that process of helping rebuild her physically and mentally in confidence. And then actually being in that race and watching her fly by me and earn a medal. She completely blew her own mind and everyone’s mind that she was capable of this.
Literally that night in Beijing China, I was like ‘I need to coach’. I need to help and be part of this. It was so rewarding to invest myself in someone and see their success. It was the greatest feeling. It was addicting. This was as good as if I had accomplished it and I didn’t have to do it. I got to be a part of it and feel a direct affect on someone in that way that was a memory she will have forever. I will have forever. I want memories like this a lot more often. This was a pivotal moment. I was like yes, I definitely want to coach.
In coaching everyone always saying you can have the best X’s and O’s and workouts and fancy things, yet it is all about the relationship you build with the athlete to help them execute, getting into their head and in-between the ears is way more important than anything else.
As you make your transition to being on the other side of training as a coach, what do you hope to bring to coaching elite athletes?
There are two things I think about a lot specifically at this level.
The first one transcends to all levels. Showing up and caring to me is the number one factor. If the athlete feels that you really care about them as an individual and you show up during the workouts that no one wants to be at (it’s cold, it’s rainy and it’s gross), you show the commitment level.
We had foster girls that went to Lincoln High School. What made me realize this theme was that it applies to every athlete, to kids especially. They were track runners and we would go to their track meets and they would not even acknowledge that we were there. It didn’t even matter if we said or did anything, yet if they saw us in the stands, it meant the world to them. They would notice when we went to go get a snack and come back, and say ‘you left for 15 minutes’. They are very perceptive!
Elite athletes are the same. They notice how much effort you put into it. The more effort you put into their running and the commitment to them, they will then run through brick walls for you as they feel the commitment that you care about what they are doing. Like I said, you can have all of these fancy workouts and that’s great. To me, the foundation of coaching is showing up and caring.
Secondly, with elite athletes you don’t often need to be this big rah rah motivator. If anything you always have to be holding them back. They are so extremely motivated, they are their own worst enemy. They will train, train, train all day long. It is like these thoroughbreds that just want to go out and run all of the time. You never have to motivate them to work harder. The best coaches are always dialing it back, holding them back. So when you put them on the start line, they are just chomping at the bit to race and run well.
How do you think your coaches throughout your career have molded your coaching philosophy?
In high school, there was not a strong running culture and I’d actually just make up my own workouts. I would read books, Joanie (Samuelson) had a training book and I’d be like, Joanie did this workout. I loved that.
Then, I had my college coach and two professional coaches where each contributed to my vision of what I’d do as a coach. With each person, there are nuggets of gold that I pull from.
In college, Coach Whittlesey taught me a lot about teamwork and how to operate as a unit of lot of people, using peoples’ skills and how to integrate everyone. And just the general basics of working hard.
Then after college, Coach Cook really taught me how to take care of myself in terms of health and injury prevention. He was so into the details and he always emphasized being a great athlete. He was really big into the weight room and injury prevention and staying on top of niggles. I learned a lot from him.
Then Coach Schumacher is like the mix of everything. He has all of those qualities and that’s probably why he is one of the best coaches in the world. He’s got it all. And if he doesn’t have the answer, he outsources. When you are healthy and ready to go, Jerry is the best to bring you along and see the big picture. He is always thinking about the big picture, the end goals and the slow incremental investment over years. For distance runners it is not instantaneous success. It’s delayed gratification. He teaches athletes patience. A lot of key mental skills are learned through training as there are long arduous workouts. This was quite an adjustment when I came to him. Patience is a big thing.
There is such a great mix that I have learned from all of my coaches. I feel like having had that variety prepares me well for seeing things a little differently as I’ve seen through the eyes of different coaches.
In general, it’s about caring about the athlete as a whole person.
We are such a competitive group yet at the end of the day. I care about the individual first and foremost, their wellbeing and happiness always. That is the priority.
I love that they run fast yet are they a good person? Are they contributing to the community? Are they a good family member? Values in running transcend to everything. They are going to be great if they have those foundational things dialed in. As a coach, that is the first and foremost.
What excites you about coaching and what, if anything, scares you about it?
It excites me because it’s new territory. Technically I’ve never really coached. I’ve been more of a mentor and leader.
This is taking on the responsibility of people’s careers. I take that as pretty good weight. When they are coming to me for advice, I have their career in my hands and that’s really important. These athletes only have a window of maybe six years of running. We need to maximize and keep them healthy, happy and supported. I think that’s exciting and scary at the same time.
Being in an environment where I am the only female coach is a little intimidating.
It was my first experience this summer going to the US and World Championships. I never thought of it as a gender specific area. I never picked my head up as an athlete, looked around at the coaches and the people that were in these warm-up areas.
At US Championships, I was literally one of three women coaches (and maybe one or two agents representing the athletes). It was wild. That was eye opening.
Then at World Championships it was an even smaller ratio. I think I was the only female there. This was pretty crazy. There was one agent from Tennessee and then there was me.
I think if you want to be in a position like this, you have to advocate for yourself. If it’s not a role that people may see as viable, you may have to create it for yourself and not wait for it to come to you.
I hope that companies start to invest in it. I advocated for myself and I am really happy I was supported.
It was exciting in New York when I did the TV broadcast. There were three women on the broadcast. There was a 3 to 2 ratio and it didn’t matter. I was a new addition and they were excited about it.
Early in your career you had what might be called setbacks or negative results. What steps did you take to get back out there and succeed? And how do you think you can bring that amazing mindset to your athletes?
There were definitely a few points within my career that were probably pivotal moments. I was a really good high school runner. I had chosen my parents very well; genetics of our parents take us only so far, and then you have to work.
Many of the men and women that I went up against in high school, went to Foot Locker
(which was a big deal). I hadn’t made it yet, and I had a couple of really bad races trying to qualify. I was sick and collapsed one time, one time it was almost psycho-symptomatic. The desire to make it so badly would give me anxiety and that was devastating to me.
I think, for some reason, I've always been able to turn these moments of bad races or bad injuries into a strength instead of falling under pressure and disappointment.
It happened again in college, a setback in my sophomore year. I was leading and winning in an NCAA cross-country race, and I ended up stopping and walking (finished 16th …really embarrassing). I was feeling the pressure as they had announced the night before that I was the NCAA runner of the year. I crumpled under pressure again.
So, I went and saw a sports psychologist to get help and evalute. Then, I ended up with two national titles in cross. Again, I used that weakness that was exposed to build strength from.
Setbacks are instigators to re-evaluation: How do I get better or what resources do I need to get help from? I think it’s just how I react instinctually.
I’ve also had various injuries in my career and, in those low moments, was able come back to have some of the greatest moments of my career. Right out of college I had foot surgery and it could have gone really badly; I came back and set 3 American records. In Beijing I had food poisoning 4 days before the race. I had a serious back injury and came back and won New York City Marathon.
I don’t have the recipe on how this happens… I just use it as a greater motivation. The re-evaluation and realization of why I’m doing this makes me little a tougher. Or, maybe the rest is really good for you. Runners don’t like to rest but the body needs it. If something holds you back, then you are forced to rest.
One thing I’m probably more compassionate about is that I understand and have personally experienced the fatigue levels. I can feel the fatigue in my bones and how hard it can be sometimes. So, I can tell the athletes to back off and rest a little bit more and still have confidence that they can come back stronger.
This personal understanding, shared experience, and empathy can resonate well with the athletes.
As a female coach do you think you will have a unique perspective and what advantages, if any, will that give you?
There are aspects about training that can apply to both men and women equally; you can give them the same type of stressors. But then there are certain aspects about training that you have to respect about the physiology of a male and a female. There are significant differences, one major difference is the fact that we (women) menstruate every month or should be if you’re a healthy female. I think there's this old school mentality that if you're training really hard you can expect to not have periods, but the reality is that actually at no point is that good for you to have that happen.
I can attest on a personal level (maybe TMI) that at no point I lost my cycle and I run a hundred and thirty miles a week. Not many women in this country can say that.
So, to me that’s no excuse. If you do have that problem, it's usually some stressors in life, under fueling and being undernourished can cause that.
This (fuel/nutrition) is a huge passion of mine and that's why I wrote the cookbooks. I witnessed it firsthand at the NCAA level--the under-fueling, undernourishment, eating disorders, really bad relationship with food; not looking at it in a positive light and something that is supposed to enhance your life.
There is a lot of misinformation and fad diets (low fat, low calorie). I didn't know any better and it was a blessing in my life to have had a college teammate role model, Elyse Kopecsky. Elyse had suffered athletic amenorrhea and was told she would never have children and had to get on birth control to regulate. It was when she moved to Switzerland that things changed. The food there was more natural, not fat free and so processed. She adopted a new way of eating in that environment and amazingly she got her cycle back. (She has two children now).
The revolutionary moment came to Elyse that there is nothing wrong with her, she’s just been eating wrong. Our food culture is really warped and misinformed.
Elyse decided to change careers and went to culinary school in New York to pursue this new path of learning about food and nutrition.
It was a couple of years later when we sat together here. I was training for my 4th Olympics, but I was feeling tired and hungry, feeling like I’m going to burnout before even getting there. It was then that Elyse suggested to try an experiment. She would tell me what foods to eat, created recipes based on her knowledge. I was eating better and I started to honestly feel so much better. I had way more energy and life, and I was older.
That is a big factor in women's running that needs to be considered. You can't just coach men and women the same without respecting the fact that women have monthly physiological changes, you can't expect the same body percent fat and composition, and nutritional needs. It is completely negligent and naive to ignore this fact and reality.
There is no magic number on a scale for an athlete to hit. I always tell the athletes that they need to have a general idea of what fitness is, but it doesn’t always match the scale.
We need to recognize that weight matters in distance running. It is part of it unfortunately, but not to the point of obsessing about it and making it a focal point. There are far more important factors in a training process that matter more. The culture emphasizes this way too much. Instead we should focus on long term health and longevity. We want these women to walk away from the sport and just feel good, not to be worried about if they can have children or other health issues.
That is refreshing to hear from an elite athlete at Shalane’s level. Everyday runners and aspiring young runners look at the elites and can get the wrong perception.
I worry sometimes when the kids and parents look at our athletes and we are all healthy, but some of us are thin.
For example, I‘m thin, but if you were to look at the evolution of me from high school to where I am now, it's a long slow process of refinement of mileage and adjusting my diet to where I’m at nice healthy weight that also coincides with some good running. But, it’s a progression not an overnight thing.
I also want to be pound-for-pound the strongest out there. I don't think of the word “thin” but strong. The mentality that I always bring with women is, "How strong can we get today?"--in the weight room, on these hills, in speed workouts?
She has taken the opportunity to talk to kids and youths about this topic, when it’s appropriate with the right audience.
For example, in a Bowerman training camp this summer, we specifically pulled the women out to talk about what is natural, what's not natural, what are fallacies and truths, a very honest and open discussion.”
Her cookbooks have been very successful and impactful too.
I’m regularly approached by people in grocery stores who look into my cart and talk about what’s their favorite recipe from the cookbook. My running has allowed these books to have a platform and make an impact. People seem to trust what we are saying.
And lastly, as a new coach, what advice would you give yourself as you start this chapter of your life?
I think it gets back to what I said earlier about caring and showing up and being present. We have a big team, and some of them are previous training partners. There’s a connection and a bond. Even though they come to me for advice and we talk, I find it important and helpful to check up on them regularly. Whether it's at practice or a text message or a phone call to see how they’re doing. Lots of athletes will try to just power through and don’t ask for help. You almost have to investigate and draw it out of. They may look fine and seem fine, but it’s good to be proactive and make sure.
Shalane’s presence in the elite coaching scene can signal new opportunities and have a ripple effect in showing that coaching is a viable option financially for women. There are a lot of women out there that want to get into this but are not sure how to go about it. Having mentors and role models to teach and support them can pave the way.
I’m hoping that someday I can mentor and help someone else come along.
When I first met Bob WIlliams in the late Oregon summer of 1985 I was the mother of a 1 year old, and missing the training and competition that had defined my life for so long. Sitting in a coffee shop near Lincoln HS in Portland, OR, Bob asked questions and wrote notes about my running career and my present goals. Finally, after closing his notebook, he looked at me and asked, “How many days do you want to take off?” I was surprised, as days off had not been a part of my running history, and I wasn’t sure why he was asking this. But as I got to know Bob, I grew to understand more of him and his philosophy of coaching and running. Meeting him on Tuesdays and Thursdays for intervals, I would first be asked how I felt. There were times as a mother of a toddler that I had been up all night, or had a sick child. He would very gently say, “Go for an easy run.” I began to understand that each of his athletes were coached very differently and a planned workout was never final until the minute it started. Bob understood runners and the lives that surrounded their running. No workout was unchangeable. He worked with what he had, and his athletes got better and better.
Bob Williams is a coaching icon in Oregon, and arguably the US. His speciality is middle distance, but he has successfully coached the 400m to the marathon. His familiar presence on tracks across the city of Portland is legendary. Often traveling past Duniway or Lincoln or Wilson HS tracks, we see him in deep conversation with athletes of all ages. All are serious conversations and you can imagine him asking, “How do you feel today?”
Bob is not flashy, and if you didn’t know him, you wouldn’t realize you are watching a unique master coach at work. Looking at his resume, his life really, you realize he has done everything as a runner/coach. Graduating from the University of Oregon in 1967, he was coached and mentored by the great Bill Bowerman. His own running vita is exceptional. As a freshman at the U of O, he led the nation in the 3K Steeplechase. In 1965, at the NCAA Championships at Berkeley he placed 9th. In 1967 he won the Pac 8 Championships with a time of 8:51.1. The U of O Team won the meet that year. Later that same season, Bob became an All American at the NCAA Championship in Provo, Utah. As a post collegiate steeplechaser he qualified for the US Olympic Trials in 1968 and 1972. His PRs are a 4:07.6 Mile, an 8:41.2 Steeple, and 14.17.3 for 3 Miles.
His coaching has spanned decades beginning in 1965 to the present. He began as a jogging leader for Bill Bowerman in his new jogging program for Eugene. From there he branched out to start and manage several running groups in Eugene. He assisted Bill Bowerman in piecing waffle shoes together for an experiment for Phil Knight. Over the years he has coached club, college and high school teams, as well as hundreds of individual athletes.
He helped co-found and direct the Portland Marathon Training Clinics.
Probably one of his best known contributions to the sport is his Williams Pace Calculator. (www.WilliamsPaceCalculator.com) This amazing coaching tool saves all of us hours of calculations for workouts and races. It is a metric slide chart that gives coaches and runners instant splits from track to road racing distances.
The athletes Bob has coached and brought success to are legendary. From the Oregon and Washington HS greats Mike McGrath, Marie Davis, Elijah Greer, Christy Lacey-Kreitz, and Scott Daggatt to post collegiate athletes Lisa Karnopp-Nye and John Dimoff.
He has worked and profoundly influenced many of the finest HS programs in Oregon; Lincoln, Gatlin Gable, Central Catholic, Westview, and Lake Oswego.
He developed programs and coached athletes at Nike, as well as being a fitness consultant at Good Samaritan Hospital, St. Vincent’s, and Portland Adventist Medical Center in Portland, Oregon.
He is currently coaching XC and Track and Field at Wilson HS in Portland, Oregon. He continues his Personal Coaching Services, www.coachbobwilliams.com.
It is 2010 at the Oregon State Championships at Hayward Field. An athlete I had been working with, Erin McLaughlin of Milwaukie HS, had qualified in the 3000m. A week earlier at the District Championships, the 1500m had been rough for Erin, and she had not qualified for the state meet in that event. I knew as a coach you needed to inspire and support an athlete in a championship meet, but I couldn’t find the right words to help Erin lift her disappointment and focus positively on the 3,000m. I was desperate to figure out how to help her. Sitting in the warm sunshine at Hayward Field in the early morning, I decided to call Bob. My connection with Bob had stayed close, both as a coach and an athlete, and I had this sudden urge to call for advice. He answered immediately with his classic greeting, “Char, how are you?” I felt sudden relief and optimism that Bob could help my athlete. I told him the story, and my hopes and goals for Erin. After listening carefully, he simply said, “What does Erin want to do?” Suddenly the darkness I felt as a coach lifted and my job became clear. Talk with Erin. Find out what she wanted to accomplish and plan from there. She ran beautifully, setting a PR of 10:12.0. If I had let my own fears and goals take over, I am sure she would not have been so successful. Bob cut through all of my coaching ego and found a way to clearly see the problem.
Please read the following interview. I know you will find all of it interesting, useful and inspiring. Bob Williams is both a treasure and a blessing to the running world.
I know you were an All-American in the steeplechase when you were at the U of O. What was it like to be coached by the great Bill Bowerman?
First, I was the PAC 8 Steeplechase Champion my senior year, 1967. I was 4th in the NCAA Championships at Provo Utah that same year, and became an All-American.
Being coached by Bill Bowerman was very special because he coached us as individuals. He wrote “group” plans in the Fall and Winter but by Spring when racing began, he gave each of us a plan that was taped to our “stall” that had specific individual times and intervals based on what we were training for that week. He was incredibly meticulous and watched us as we trained, and made mental notes as to our progress that were reflected in our training plan.
As a group of runners we all enjoyed the training with Bill. He was fair and tried to maintain an equality to a relationship with each of us. If you strayed from his training plan you would know it. There were runners who tried to do more but learned quickly that if you did not take your easy days easy, you would be flat on time trial days. He would question you and get pretty upset if you tried running more miles than what your body was capable of doing, and especially expressing that on Time Trial days.
Bill was very interested in making sure we understood what we were doing and why. It really made it more purposeful and fun. He was a teacher first and coach second. Getting that kind of understanding and purpose is the basis for my current coaching style and training philosophy.
What have you brought into your coaching that was part of your U of O experience?
I determined early on with Bill’s coaching that when an athlete has recovered from a vigorous session they are pretty excited to have more fun training. Bill was way ahead of the training curve, nationally speaking, with his training methods based on the hard-easy system. I learned pretty quickly that his training methods got very good results. It takes time to get to know each athlete and to build trust, but once that is developed you get better feedback from how the runner felt/feels, physically and psychologically/emotionally.
Another coaching philosophy I learned from Bill was how much work/training can an athlete manage in one session or, for a week. To start, I learned that with a new athlete, a minimum amount of intensity and volume work will do. As Bill explained it, see how the athlete feels in two days. Then you will know how to further the athlete’s training, allowing the body’s gradual adaptation to take hold. He always said, “When in doubt, be conservative.” I had to read the athlete’s responses (with open ended questions) to the training session. As an individual boy/girl, each will have a distinct response to the training session.
When did you start coaching and why?
I started coaching a middle school kid who lived down the street. I watched him run by my house a few times and he asked me one day to coach him. He ran very well at Marist High and later ran at Georgetown University. I gave him workouts and he would call me and tell me the results. I watched him get better as he developed. I think he won the regional AAU 800m Championships that year. I simply followed what Bill was providing us and fit the training for him.
In 1971 as a graduate student at the U of O, I coached Carolyn Walker to the World XC Championships. That helped me determine that what I had learned from Bill really worked.
What was it like as a rookie coach?
I always felt pretty confident with my coaching skills. In 1969 while living in Seattle, I watched a high school kid, Scott Daggatt, run himself into the ground at the University of Washington Hec Edmunsen Basketball building indoor track that winter. After introducing myself, I asked him if he would like to get some coaching. He was pretty excited to get some “professional” advice. He won the State of Washington Track and Field 4-A Mile Champs, ran an 8:45 2-mile, and went to the U of O on a partial Scholarship. He later ran 3:58.6 and went to the Pan Am Games. His very good friend and training partner Steve Prefontaine once told him that he, Scott, was the one runner who he feared most.
Who were your mentors and experts?
Until about 1995, Bill was the only coaching mentor I had. I had absolutely no interest in listening to any other coach. Bill had set the standard for middle distance coaching in the U.S. In addition, I was pretty set on how I had attained my success while a student and post college athlete. I’d go see him at his house over the years and we’d talk training and I’d quiz him, take notes, and leave being better informed. But really all he did was confirm what we did during my years being coached by him. His principles were so simple and made so much sense.
Now, over the past 20-30 years, I do rely on other coaches around the Country. Richard Brown (now deceased) was instrumental. Mike Caldwell, Asics Greenville Track Club Elite (gtc-elite.org), Master Coach Peter Thompson of Eugene (www.newintervaltraining.com), Kelly Sullivan, Seattle University, Pete Julian, NOP, and my high school peers at Wilson High School in Portland.
In particular I have found success with Peter Thompson's New Interval training called lactate shuttle training. When done correctly it is a very powerful training type.
(New Interval Training is a type of interval/fartlek training developed by Peter Thompson that includes a “roll on” run of 100-200m or 300m following the repetition. This “roll on” is continuous running at a slower speed than the repetition to allow the body to “shuttle” the lactate throughout the muscle and internally such as the heart, liver and kidneys. This “shuttling” of lactate actually provides another energy source for the body. It also provides the opportunity for the runner to become more impervious to the lactate build up thus enhancing his/her ability to keep running at faster speeds with less effort. I recommend a New Interval session 1 x every 7-10 days. A typical session would look like: 2-3 x [3 x 300 @ 5k, 3k, 1500m paces] with 100m roll on and a 4-minute recovery period after each set. The roll on would be between 28-30 seconds for new runners and 20-21 for fit runners.)
Do you coach men and women differently?
No. It’s about developing the relationship with each athlete. I use the same principles for both men and women and boys and girls. Some athletes need less work for success. Some more. It’s all about the individual.
What advice would you give to a coach just starting out? Resources, classes, books? Where should they start?
I’d recommend a new coach start by getting the Level 1 USATF Coaching Certification. Start coaching with middle school kids, work up to high school. If they really want to become a distance coach, then get Level 2 Certification, read The Lore of Running by Tim Noakes, visit the online coaching/runner learning material on the PACE website (portlandpacenetwork.com).
In coaching Mike McGrath, one of the greatest Oregon HS runners of all time, how did you approach his training? What kind of athlete was he and what was your approach to coaching him?
The elements that both Mike McGrath (1:48.5) and Elijah Greer (1:47.6) had were the love of competing, the exceptional drive to master all supplemental gym activity, and their individual focus when training and racing. Being able to concentrate on your inner objective while training and racing is critical for anyone who wishes to get better.
I approached each one’s training knowing that their primary racing distance, 800m, requires different types of work. They need to be able to manage high levels of discomfort, oxygen debt, and carry this feeling longer from 500m to 800m, as the race progressed. So we started in November, after a 600m time trial, to build into their training, speed development, and speed endurance. I trained them as milers and much of the work they did was focused on mile and some 3k training. But I would gradually--1 x every 8-10 days--throw in some speed endurance like a 500m plus a few 300’s at their DATE pace for 600m. This small amount of this type of work really became the “secret sauce” of their racing success.
I now use more lactate shuttle work to further enhance the capability to manage higher levels of lactate with the specific date paces.
There have been many changes in running from the AAU to USATF, and from amateur to professional athletes over the past 35-40 years. How has that changed your approach to coaching?
The main things (nothing from AAU and USATF) that have changed in my coaching approach starting back in 1995 is indoor gym work to develop the strength in feet/ankles, overall body strength, use of balance on uneven surfaces (pillows/blow up rubber discs), movement drills, and med ball and individual weight work with free weights.
You are such a student of the sport of running. What scientific research has changed our sport for the better, and how have you used this research?
Oh, my gosh, great question, difficult to answer. I get the IAAF yearly booklet plus read everything in research that comes my way from other coaches around the US. It’s really how you add new training specifics to the mix you already do. There is only so much time you have with an athlete on a day to day basis. You have to put a lot of thought and planning into the runner and just see what happens. You have to avoid any interruptions in their training--injury/illness/“crap happens” stuff--and stay true to your beliefs and philosophy. Not easy to do all of the time, of course. We as coaches are NOT PERFECT. We make mistakes and hopefully we learn from them.
For a HS Coach in Track and XC, what is the most important advice you can give a coach?
XC and track require different types of training routines. Around November you can begin to fold indoor track needs that eventually become outdoor goals. This requires some advance planning, of course. I use 2-week training blocks that end with a timed trial. For example, I start with 3 km training for a miler, and do a time trial at the end of that 2 weeks. That new time becomes the date pace that is used the next 3k training block. I make sure that there is intense focus on the last 300m of that timed effort. That fast 300m teaches aggressive behavior and adrenaline response. The fast last 300m drops the Date Pace for a new level of fitness and subsequent training. Ditto for the Mile training.
How do you approach and coach the different levels of abilities of HS athletes?
I typically have each runner learn to understand and focus on their breathing since it is critical for their development but also the fun factor. Who likes to run with intense breathing challenge? Not many. I will have the unfit walk and jog specific amounts on the track, and at the end of a week, they all do a “long” run--see how much further they can jog keeping their Breathing Challenge on a scale of 1-10 to around a 5-6. If they are breathing harder they will be limited to the amount of running they can do that day. So, to enjoy the training, keep the breathing challenge low and get the athlete to do more walking and jogging starting with 15-20 minutes total time the first day. They can manage that and will want to master this sport with more enthusiasm and physical vigor. If they are breathing too hard this also raises the potential of muscle straining and calf tightness, potential stress fractures of the tibia, and plantar fasciitis.
(Breathing Challenge can best be described as determining the rating of perceived breathing effort on a scale of 1-10. A “1” is like walking--very calm breathing--and a “10" is at the end of a very hard race--almost unable to breathe. So, when you are doing “light running” your Rating of Perceived Effort (RPE) might be best described as a 3-4; you run up a moderate hill, your breathing goes to a 5-6; doing a “lactate” threshold distance might be between a 5-7; at the end of a set of 4 x 1200 might get up to a 7-8. Using the RPE will give the coach a good idea as to the difficulty of a particular distance or training run. This way you can help the runner to figure out whether the run was too hard or too easy)
Name a few athletes that you have coached that have left an indelible mark on you?
OOh. Very simple! Charlotte Richardson and Lisa Karnopp Nye!
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Coaching and Stress
Advice from experienced coaches on how to deal with it
"As track and field and running coaches we deal with a many types of stress in our coaching work. Some of the pressures are about creating the optimum training to allow athletes to compete at their very best. Additionally we worry about injuries and burnout. We deal with overly involved parents, or absent parents. We try to develop well-trained athletes who are confident and competitive. We work with sports psychologists to counsel our athletes to be less nervous and to race to their optimum. But who helps us? Who coaches the coaches to be confident, positive, and relaxed during the season?"
Coaching is a complicated and challenging career, and doing what you love has so many rewards. Each season brings new potential. The possibilities of the athletes and their team, the creation of new and better workouts, the potential of successful racing and the satisfaction of an athlete fulfilling his or her goals is exhilarating.
Years ago when I took an introductory coaching class I vividly recall one of the lecturers warning us about the dangers of coaching and its impact on family life. This coach was recently divorced and he warned us of the downside of coaching. He talked about the long hours that cut into family time, and its strain on marriages and partnerships. I remember being embarrassed for the man. I was a young coach and so it hardly registered. I was ready to begin my seasons of winning! The darker side of coaching was not yet in my sights. What I saw ahead was doing what I loved and knew so well--coaching runners. Nothing could be better.
Many of these coaching dreams have come true. I have worked with successful athletes and teams. I have felt the incredible connection between coach and athlete. I have loved every minute I have spent coaching. But within those experiences there has been a shadow side that has changed me as a coach and a person. It has made me want to look for solutions to help better cope with all that coaching is. As an older coach the relationship I have with coaching has matured. The many facets of coaching are about much more than coaching athletes. In hindsight I would not have changed being a coach, but I would have changed how I approached my coaching responsibilities.
Coaches of professional teams deal with a very different kind of stress having to do with winning and money. Their worth as a coach is based on a win/loss record. Keeping their job means they must win most of the time. Track and field and cross country high school and some college coaches deal with a different kind of stress. Many of the pressures are about creating the best training to allow athletes to compete at their very best. Additionally we worry about injuries and burnout. We deal with overly involved parents, or absent parents. We try to develop well -trained athletes who are confident and competitive. We work with sports psychologists to train our athletes to be less nervous and to race to their optimum. But who helps us? Who coaches the coaches to be confident, positive, and relaxed during the season?
As I prepare for the upcoming cross-country season, I am determined to find solutions to the stress I experience in my work. I want to enjoy the rewards but minimize the pressures. The research about stress in coaching is sparse. Much of it has to do with professional coaches and the pressures of winning and money. Most of the research is about athletes coping with anxiety and stress, and how coaches can help them.
Many of us are former competitors and we bring that competitiveness into our coaching work. To be honest one of the reasons we coach is that unique and strong competitive drive. We worry about doing the right workouts, or doing too much or too little. We stress about athlete injury. We deal with difficult parents and the emotions of our athletes. We worry about reaching our team goals. We hope our athletes will reach their season goals. We can control so little of these worries. Much of it is out of our control.
I sent an email to a group of coaching friends to see if I could ascertain what their stresses were, and how they deal with them. Below are the questions and answers I received. I summarized some of it, but I encourage you to read all of the answers below. It is really good advice and information.
- Stay in close contact with your past coaches.
- Create great support systems with other coaches, parents and AD’s.
- Find a mentor.
- Never stop learning about your craft. Read, read, read and talk to other coaches.
- Be open to new ideas.
- Find great assistant coaches and let them use their skills.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare.
- Believe in preparation. The time and effort you put in will produce something special.
- The better prepared you are, the more you will have confidence in your coaching. This equates to less stress during the season!
- Be confident.
- Believe in yourself and what you are doing.
- Have a philosophy. What do you believe in as a coach?
- Set goals for yourself. Have your staff and your athletes set goals.
- Be really positive on meet day. The athletes pick up on your stress and nervousness.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Your best is enough.
- Try to unplug at home and be present.
- Take time for yourself.
- Take care of your health. Get your running (or other exercise) in too!
- Slow down.
- Breathe! Be calm.
- Have fun! Coaching is fun!
Question 1 - Do you feel stressed during the track and field or xc season? If so, what are those stresses and how do you deal with them?
Coach #2 (High School Coach)
Whether I was coaching high school or collegiately, I had no more stress during our seasons than I did in the off seasons. In all of my coaching jobs I have been blessed with great support systems whether it was head coaches, fellow coaches or parents volunteering to help. These people assisted me to even out whatever my stress was over the whole year. If some unforeseen issue arrives, I always use my mantra of remaining calm and problem solving. My father was a great role model for this (he helped to develop the stealth bomber—talk about stress!). He found that keeping calm in the face of adversity, whatever it was, gave you clear vision and helped you to be a better problem solver. Watching him definitely influenced my way of dealing with stress, coaching or otherwise!
Coach # 3 (High School Coach)
My biggest stressor during the season is my battle with kids and parents who don't read the handbook when it comes to our rules and expectations. I am constantly worried that I won't apply consistent discipline. I also stress about the application of discipline. My biggest struggles have been with overbearing parents who want their child/children to be involved with the team but don't want to live by team rules.
Coach # 4 (High School Coach)
I feel stress most when a big competition is approaching, and the preparation is mostly complete—I feel anxious about all the things that I cannot control that will come up. No matter how well I as a coach have prepared the athlete, it is time for her or him or them to execute. That makes me nervous.
Coach # 1 (High School Coach)
My greatest stress is working full-time as a teacher with 180 students + coaching. It means I work weekdays from 7 AM - 10 PM with maybe 1-2 hours off for cooking dinner and cleaning the kitchen. Then often I have a meet on a Saturday. While I do love coaching, the season is a tiring time for me.
Parents can be a big stress too. For all, I remind myself to stay focused on my overall coaching goals.
Coach # 5 (Club Coach)
I coach roadrunners year round, and yes, I get stressed occasionally. The athletes' stress and nerves can get to you as a coach and needs to be managed. I also worry and get concerned about how well they're taking care of themselves (rest, fuel, hydration, etc.) But I have a solid process for organizing the workouts, regular check-ins with all, and honest dialogue with high maintenance athletes.
Coach # 6 (Volunteer High School Coach)
No, I didn’t really feel stressed during the season but I did feel excited for our runners during their races. I acknowledge that I was far removed from the head coach role but I could see the stress that was often involved during big events on our Head Coach, and I tried to offer help her when I could, if it was just listening.
Coach #7 (Volunteer High School Coach)
Being a volunteer coach who is only there a couple days a week, I don't feel the stresses with practice. It's actually a relief for me. A way to find something I love. It does cause stress within my family and marriage because of being gone in the evenings and weekends. It has put a lot more on my husband's plate. But we have had many talks about how much happier I have been because of coaching. He sees it and honors it but it's still hard. For that reason I work really hard at planning babysitters to give him time. He isn't one to plan ahead so I schedule babysitters without always asking him. Then he has time, even if its just to go for a Mt. Bike ride or to the record store. Giving him time away from our kids and time for him. Or on weekends encouraging him to golf and do what he loves. Knowing that during this season we won't see each other as much but we can both find happiness.
Coach # 8 (Club Coach)
I would say the stress results from too many balls in the air. For me, I deal with 200 volunteers and 3 training programs with 2,000+ participants per year. I help the club put on events. I also help organize the Masters Team. I also do media as the "face of the training" for the club.
With the team the stress is from:
- athletes not buying in
- athletes not doing what is expected from the club (volunteering/event/etc) and then their lack of effort gets directed at me
- athletes being injured
- athletes not performing what we think they should
Coach # 9 (High School Coach)
Definitely. (Do you feel stressed during the season?) I think it is part of the game. You put in a lot of work with the kids and you want it to work out for them. They typically equal the amount of work that we as coaches put in so you want a positive experience for them. I deal with them by reflecting back on what we've done up to that point and knowing that we've taken care of all the little things. As a coach if you believe you put them in the best position to succeed, than that is all that you can ask for.
Coach # 10 (Private High School Coach)
YES...(Do you feel stressed during the season?) All of the details to manage, kids' emotions, and my family life.
Coach # 11 (Middle School, High School, and Club Coach)
Yes! (Do you feel stressed during the season?)
Making sure the right athletes have the right workouts at the right time.
Making sure athletes are taking in proper nutrition, hydration, and rest. Huge for high school athletes
I have a spreadsheet where I track everything. It gives me a sense of control- as much as I can!
Question 2 - What advice would you give to other coaches in dealing with stress?
Coach # 9 (High School Coach)
Trust your training and what you've done up to that point. If you don't believe in it, how can you expect the kids to believe in it (in your training). Be really positive on meet day regardless of buildup; the kids will feed off of that.
Coach # 2 (High School Coach)
Prepare, prepare, prepare! The best advice I ever got was to spend time learning how to coach (in my case from the 800m on up to the marathon). Read up on the latest research, pick coaches’ brains that you admire, and then mesh it all into how you are going to coach your athletes, whatever level. The better prepared you are, the more you have confidence in your coaching, which equates to less stress during your seasons. The great thing about this is your confidence is reflected in how your athletes perform—if you’re confident, it is contagious with your athletes as well, again, leading to less stress for all involved.
Coach # 10 (Private High School Coach)
I try to take time to myself when I can. I want to be a coach for the rest of my life so I need to have balance. A quiet run by myself, a pedicure, etc.. Anything to give myself a treat and help keep me balanced so I can be the best coach, parent and person I can be.
Coach # 3 (High School Coach)
I wish I could give advice about how to manage the issue that gives me the most stress. I try to unplug at home and just be at home. Sometimes that's tough. For others who stress about the X's and O's my best advice for dealing with those stresses is to adopt a philosophy about running somewhere along these lines: We get better as runners during recovery, not during workouts. It is harder to do wrong with more recovery than it is to do right with less. Err on the side of caution. Erring on the other side can lead to injury, under-performance, and disappointment.
Coach # 5 (Club Coach)
As a coach, you need to be self aware of your own emotional state, project confidence and calm to the team.
Coach # 11 (Middle School, High School, and Club Coach)
Keep monitoring your athletes, as that is all you can do. And remember they are the ones who have to perform. You bring them to competition prepared, and they do the rest. Athletes will sense your stress and take on an unnecessary burden. If coaches can stay relaxed and positive, athletes will be able to perform freely.
Coach # 1 (High School Coach)
I fundamentally want every person to have a sports experience as children and adults. I truly believe in the value of exercise and sports for overall health. I keep focused on that with everything I do. As I see more and more kids focusing on one sport, and more clubs making sports something that is a big expense for families, it keeps me dedicated to my dream of exercise for all. I fear that many of the people who will get the most out of high school sports, are losing access to them.
Coach # 4 (High School Coach)
The pre-competition jitters about having prepared well enough or what might happen on competition day, I just try to breathe and think positively, and believe in the preparation, and that the time and effort will produce something special. (And I like to tell athletes, being nervous and anxious is good energy that can make great things happen...and it means you care!)
As for the stress caused by parents or other significant people to the athlete, I try to minimize contact at the competition and steer athletes toward coaches and teammates for support.
Coach # 8 (Club Coach)
I had not taken care of myself for while. I now know I need to run at least 3 times a week or I don't feel good mentally or physically. And that is just 3-4 miles easy time.
Coach # 6 (Volunteer High School Coach)
Take good care of yourself so you can handle whatever comes your way. Have competent people that you can talk to and be sure to have the support of the school’s AD. Try to have a core group of parents that will help you when needed. Also, have a good knowledge of the dynamics of some of the potential problems athletes have both in the classroom and at home. This might be of help in a tense personality problem with an athlete.
Coach # 7 (Volunteer High School Coach)
I believe it is important to find your role on the team. Kind of like the athletes finding their role. See if you can identify to yourself how you best support the team and do that to the best of your ability. I am in a situation where I can only coach a couple of days a week. I am not the one who writes the workouts, manages the buses, schedule etc. so why put extra effort into those things when someone else is already doing a great job at it? My role has developed over time and I've become better at it because in my head I know how I can best support the team and how I can be the most beneficial. By nature, the athletes now come to me for certain things and other coaches for other things. I believe I've relieved some pressure off the head coach by taking my role and running with it. Also by doing this we have become a really great coaching team. And it definitely doesn't mean I do this in isolation. Communicating my ideas and getting new ideas from peers helps my practice evolve.
The other end of this, is the head coach has trusted me. It wouldn't work if he wasn't able to do this. He likes to manage things but he has let me run with it because he sees the benefits. It has to be a two way street. Both head and assistant coaches need to see the roles the coaches play and honor them. He still knows everything I'm doing, we discuss it so he is aware.
Question 3 - What books or articles could you suggest that helped you deal with your emotional strain or pressure in coaching that might be helpful to others?
Coach # 1 (High School Coach)
I stay in close contact with my past coaches. They are people I rely on to help me deal with the strain. I'm super grateful to how these coaches shaped my vision for sports and continue to support me. Also our current coaching team. We have fun together and enjoy working with kids. We have to always keep this at the forefront of what we are doing.
Andre Agassi's book Open was enlightening for me about how crazy sports can be and how it impacts people. I enjoy the Women's Running Coaches Collective Newsletter!
Coach # 2 (High School Coach)
I wish I had some magic book or article I used to help me deal with the strain of coaching. Mostly, I watched other coaches, good or bad, and tried to learn from them as much as possible. I don’t know anyone who stepped right into coaching and knows it all—most of the great coaches have years of experience. So find a mentor and be the best observer you can be!
Coach # 11 (Middle School, High School, and Club Coach)
Coach Bob Williams was such a great influence. (Williams Pace Calculator and one of the best middle and distance coaches in the US!)
And I don’t think I’ve read anything in particular. I do use my own competitive experience in coaching. Stay relaxed and focused.
Coach # 3 (High School Coach)
I'm not one for self-help books but I have read the book Mind Gym a few times. It has some good exercises for being mentally prepared for competition. Those same exercises can help a coach, too.
Coach # 4 (High School Coach)
I can’t single out a book or article, though Running with the Buffaloes was quite good. It was about a cross country preseason and season at U of CO, that got in depth with training, coaches, athletes, and many issues that came up in that season. Another great read was, Running with the Legends which was a compilation of interviews with prominent runners of the ‘70’s thru the 90’s, top level distance runner men and women from all over the world, who shared favorite workouts, their race prep and strategies, etc. Both books gave valuable insight into how to prepare for competitions physically and mentally, and both inspired my mindset as a coach, and both books dealt with stressful and difficult situations that come up when one is coaching and competing.
Coach # 5 (Club Coach)
Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz just to keep grounded.
I rely on my personal experiences, insights and learning from other athletes and coaches.
Coach # 8 (Club Coach)
For me, there have been books or apps about taking time for myself. Slowing down and not being so hard on myself. Not so much about coaching.
Coach # 10 (Private High School Coach)
Hmmm…Honestly I have not read any. I wish there were more books written by female coaches balancing similar priorities that I could relate to.
Coach # 9 (High School Coach)
I'm not sure I have any specific books but I would recommend talking to as many coaches as you can. I think what's helped me to become a better coach is getting in the ear of everyone that I can and asking lots of questions. That's the easiest way for me to learn.
We haven't forgotten about you! The WRCC Committee has been busy working on our next steps as an organization! We want to best serve you as coaches with access to information about cross country, track and field, and road racing.
We have in the works a website that will better support you in your pursuit of excellence as a coach.
We are working hard and hope to be up and running soon.
Meanwhile we want to ask you three questions about your own coaching and stress. We will feature this information in the next newsletter. Do you experience stress as a coach, and if so, how do you deal with it? All answers will be kept confidential.
See questions below. Email your answers to email@example.com
Now that your track and field season is over, we'd love to get your feedback about the stressors you experience in your coaching career. In addition, we'd like to hear ways you have found to deal with these emotional strains or pressures. In our WRCC Newsletter we will summarize what you have sent us and hopefully start a dialogue. I know we would all say that being a coach is one of the most interesting and rewarding professions there is. We are all passionate about coaching and our work with young athletes, but there can be a downside to the profession. All of us know the strain coaching can put on our lives. We would love for you to share your experiences and stories of dealing with coaching stress.
For the many years I have been coaching, and the thousands of athletes I have worked with, I have not learned to completely manage my own stress levels and anxiety during the season. Most of the research that has been done is with professional coaches. And even though these coaches do experience similar issues in their coaching jobs, a lot of their pressures seem to be about winning and money. Looking at high school and some college coaches, the stressors are different. Many of our pressures are about creating the best training to allow our young athletes to compete at their very best. In addition we worry about injuries and burnout. We have to deal with overly involved parents, or absent parents. We put a lot of energy into creating well trained athletes who are confident and competitive. We work with sports psychologists to train our athletes to be less nervous and to race to their optimum. But who helps us? Who coaches the coaches to be confident, positive, and relaxed during the season?
Here are the three questions. They do not need to be long answers. Just give us an idea of your personal stress or pressures in coaching, and ways you have learned to deal with them. We'd also love stories that illustrate the stress you have dealt with in the past and how you have handled it.
1 - Do you feel stressed during the track and field or xc season? If so, what are those stresses and how do you deal with them?
2 - What advice would you give to other coaches in dealing with stress?
3 - What books or articles could you suggest that helped you deal with your emotional strain or pressure in coaching that might be helpful to others?
Thank you so much for sending us any personal feedback you might have!
Yours in coaching,
Charlotte Lettis Richardson
Women's Running Coaches Collective Member
Send answers to - firstname.lastname@example.org
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What makes someone a Master in their field? In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says mastery in a field takes roughly 10,000 hours. Over the many years as a competitor and then a coach, Laura has accumulated more than the prerequisite 10,000 hours. Coaching middle and distance runners at the high school, college, and professional level, Laura has become a Master Coach in the coaching world. Her style ranges from the brilliant to the common sense. She knows the science of running, but excels in the art. To spend a season under the leadership of Coach Caldwell, you would be doing a Masters in Elite Coaching. Season planning, writing and executing workouts, the psychology of runners, goal setting, organization and administration would be your curriculum. Coach Laura Caldwell has the experience, the knowledge, and the grace of a Master.
As a runner, Laura ran at the college and professional levels, achieving both national and international recognition. When at Florida State, Laura Ledbetter Caldwell held the 800 meter school record. In her post collegiate career she ran as a professional distance runner, competing for NIKE. Among her many running accomplishments, Laura placed 8th in the 1987 USA Women's Marathon Championships, won the 1992 Seattle Marathon, won the USA Masters 5,000 Track Championship, and was the 1993 USA Masters Cross Country Champion. At age 43, she ran 1:15:52 for a half marathon. Her incredible talent as a runner allowed her success in events ranging from the 800 to the marathon!
Coach Laura Caldwell has been successful at the high school, college, and elite levels. She was a founding member of the Portland, OR, women's running club, Team Athena, and was their first president. As the cross country and track coach of the girls team at Lake Oswego HS, Oregon, her runners consistently qualified for the Oregon 6A State Meet, and reached the podium in 2007. In the 1980's she was the editor of the successful publication, Racing South Magazine. In 2010 she joined the coaching staff at Furman University, along with her husband Mike Caldwell. She currently coaches with the Greenville Track Club Elite.
In the interview below we get to glimpse into the world of running and coaching, as Coach Caldwell shares her insights, experiences, and knowledge.
Laura Ledbetter Caldwell - Runner
Running has been one of the loves of your life. Can you tell us why you have competed, coached, managed, written about and supported runners and running over the years? Why has it been such a passion of yours?
Growing up pre-title IX, I really didn’t have the opportunity to explore different sports and find one that I was attracted to. In high school, you could play golf or tennis (girl sports) or be a cheerleader—that was it! However, I was always a bit of a tomboy, playing sports with the neighborhood kids and generally running around all day long. So unbeknownst to me, I was actually setting myself up to gravitating to some organized sport. When I got to Florida State University, I accidently found running by enrolling in a track and field class run by Dr. Kenneth Miller, who was the former coach of the men’s track program. At the time he was coaching the women’s track club (not an official school team because title IX wouldn’t start for another year). It was here under his coaching that I discovered my love of running and I was “off to the races” after that. Title IX was enacted and FSU started a women’s track and field team my sophomore year. I walked on and became one of the first women to get an athletic scholarship at the school. During this time I found that I loved running and competing but also a sense that I had been offered this wonderful opportunity to compete and get an education. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was instilling in me this desire to help bring others into our sport and all it has to offer.
How did your journey as a woman runner to a women’s coach evolve? Did being an elite runner help your coaching? How did you get started in coaching?
As with how I sort of fell into running personally, my evolving into becoming a coach happened much the same way. After undergrad, I entered the masters counseling program at FSU—a two-year program—and was offered a grad-assistant position to help with the women’s track and field and cross country programs my first year. I found I loved being involved with helping the women on the team train and compete, and it allowed me to continue running as well. My second year I was hired to be an assistant coach at Florida High School (FSU’s educational school). Here I coached girls in the 400m on up. This was even more rewarding to me because I was helping new athletes who had never experienced track and field before. As I started coaching, I took what I was doing as an athlete and tried to adapt it to how I coached my runners. So I have to admit there was some early trial and error, which helped me come to a major realization that less is more training-wise!
You have been a coach for a long time. What are the changes you have seen in the acceptance and respect for women coaches?
I think when Title IX first came into being men rushed in to fill positions that were available because there were just not that many women participants, club coaches, etc.—men had been doing sport for a long time, women not so much! Now you have many women coaching other women, but just a few women coaching men. However, that would have been unheard of years ago. So things are changing, slowly, but they’re changing! The other thing I’ve noticed is women’s voices are given more weight than just 20 years ago. I still had to deal with a few bubbas when I coached at Lake Oswego High School just ten years ago. Luckily, I had a great head coach there in Eric Lider (since retired) who treated me with respect and kindness, while having my back if I needed him.
Coach Laura Ledbetter Caldwell
"I think when Title IX first came into being men rushed in to fill positions that were available because there were just not that many women participants, club coaches, etc.—men had been doing sport for a long time, women not so much! Now you have many women coaching other women, but just a few women coaching men. However, that would have been unheard of years ago. So things are changing, slowly, but they’re changing!"
Could you recommend running resources to other women coaches? Books, research, websites?
I read a lot of articles on training, nutrition, recovery, etc. and then try to find other articles to back up the ones I’m reading. This is so I can get an idea of where the information is coming from (thank you Goggle!). However, if you need one resource on training that I think is the best for giving you ideas on how to train distance athletes (800m on up), that would be Dr. Jack Daniels’ Running Formula. I’ve found myself referring to it often for help. Then, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my greatest resource—my husband Mike, who majored in exercise physiology and is relentless in keeping up with the latest research!
You have coached men and women, boys and girls. What are the similarities and differences (if any) in coaching two genders?
I would like to say there are no differences—I have found both to be incredibly competitive and hard workers. However, what I have observed is that girls and women are a little easier to coach as far as the process goes. They listen and usually do what is asked. Boys and men tend to pay attention more to the sport, read up on everyone’s training, and know all of their competitors (thanks social media!). This can be a blessing and a curse. I often hear, “so and so did this workout” or “this runner ran x-amount of miles per week” from the guys. So you do get some that need to learn to stay in their lane! The other issue that can arise with women is a need to pay attention to menstrual cycles. For most women and girls this is not an issue, but for the ones that it is, I like to keep up with where they are in their cycle as it can impact their effort for that particular workout or race. So these are my own personal observations during my many years of coaching both sexes.
Do you goal set with your athletes for the season? And do you goal set prior to a race or competition?
Goal setting is an integral part of our Greenville Track Club-Elite program. After all, if your athletes don’t know what they are trying to accomplish, training can become tiresome and even a “grind”. I’ve used goal setting for every athlete I’ve ever coached—from high school to the elite level. Anyone should be able to state what they want to do. The important thing as a coach is helping them to verbalize and then follow through on the training needed to reach those goals. In sitting down with an athlete to discuss goals, I like them to have thought before hand what these are. Then together in our meeting we discuss long term goals, short term goals, pie-in-the-sky goals, small goals and the minimum that would make them feel successful. I even had one young lady who broke her goals down into 3-6 months, 6-12 months, 12-24 months and included every day goals like getting enough sleep and making every run intentional and fun! As for individual races, I like my athletes to own what they want to get out of a competition, but in a realistic way. Then, we can do a visualization exercise so they see themselves performing the way they want, usually the day before a competition.
"I’ve used goal setting for every athlete I’ve ever coached—from high school to the elite level. Anyone should be able to state what they want to do. The important thing as a coach is helping them to verbalize and then follow through on the training needed to reach those goals."
How do you work with different abilities on a team? Do you individualize or customize workouts? Could you give us an example of how you create workouts in a team situation?
When I coached high school, I found you have to be creative and adaptive in your workout creations. At Lake Oswego HS we had almost 100 kids on our cross country team, from new runners to seasoned veterans. I was also fortunate that we were able to combine the boys’ and girls’ workouts and break down into 4-5 different training groups by ability. At the beginning of the season we would run a 3000m cross country race that would give us an idea of where each runner fell on our training grid. Then we’d break them down into comparable groups for each workout. I would re-evaluate everyone after each meet. This worked out well and I never had any problems, fortunately, with egos.
What is a “signature” Laura Caldwell workout for cross country you could share with other coaches? What part of the season would the athletes do this workout?
I’m a big believer in the 1000m distance as a standard for interval work. At Lake Oswego HS, I liked to measure a 1000m distance in a park across the street from the high school (our home course for XC and very hilly) with each 200m marked. At the beginning of the season, I’d start the stronger kids on 3-5 x 1k at threshold pace with 2:30 minutes rest. These are the runners who trained over the summer break and are ready to build back up quickly. For my other training groups I could customize the workout to be more to their abilities, such as fewer and slower 1000m’s or shorter distances anywhere from 400m-800m. Everyone enjoyed getting off the track and taking a run through the woods. However, if no trails available, you could easily do this on the track as well.
In having coached many young women over the years, how have you handled the young ladies who struggle as they go through puberty? How do you keep them involved and supported?
I’ve seen this happen enough times to young ladies over the years and it tugs at my heart each time. Puberty is harder for some than others. This is such a personal matter with each athlete—some handle it and some don’t. I found that letting them know that other young women have been in the same place helps, along with recalibrating their goals for where they are now and recognizing how much they mean to the team. When dealing with my high school athletes, I always let them know I was available whenever they needed to talk about anything. I tried to be intuitive as well and step in to remind them that I’m available if it looked as though they needed some support and encouragement. We also had team building activities throughout the season to help create a sense of community and bond between our athletes.
On athletes going through puberty -
Melissa Hill talks with Adrienne Langelier, Sport Psychology Consultant, about competitive anxiety, fear of failure or success, overly involved parents, goal setting and much more...
Adrienne Langelier, Sport Psychology Consultant
"There are a few things I suggest coaches implement in their interactions with athletes re: race anxiety: First and most basic - remind them that what they’re experiencing is completely normal. Even the world’s best deal with pre-race nerves or anxiety - I know this first hand because a pro runner once told me this at a major marathon!"
We've all been there, as performers and coaches of performers; you've got a big competition coming up and you've got to strike the right balance between nervous energy vs. nerves. How do you channel your performer to excellence?
One of my most vivid memories from college is standing at the start line, thinking that I would keel over from anxiety. Once the gun went off, I was ok, but before that, not so much!
Can we help our performers find a way to channel nerves and find focus and calmness prior to competition? We went to an expert to help us answer a few of the questions on the challenges we face on a daily basis. - Melissa Hill
Adrienne Langelier, MA, LPC, is a counselor and sport psychology consultant with offices in The Woodlands and College Station, TX. She has served as a counselor on the Houston Methodist Willowbrook Sports Medicine and Performance Fellowship and has extensive experience working with adolescents and adults along the continuum of mental health through peak performance. She works with clients of all backgrounds and interests and enjoys working with athletes dealing with anything from off the field difficulties to peak performance.
She holds a Bachelor of Science with Honors Degree from Texas A&M University and a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology from Sam Houston State University. Adrienne has nearly a decade of experience using a host of research-based and effective techniques to move those she works with toward their goals, but emphasizes forming a unique partnership with every individual she works with.
She has contributed to and been featured in top publications including The Huffington and The Washington Posts and is a featured contributor in Olympian Kara Goucher’s book ‘Strong: A Confidence Journal’. Adrienne also enjoys speaking to organizations and groups on athlete mental health awareness and intervention and has experience assisting in mental health continuing education curriculum development for the Board of Certification of Athletic Trainers. A lifelong athlete, Adrienne pairs her experience with her work to help each individual become the best version of themselves. When not working with clients, writing, or presenting, she regularly trains and competes as a distance runner in the Greater Houston area. Adrienne is a 3x Boston Marathon Qualifier and has experience racing at the USA Cross Country Championships and Half Marathon Championships.
For more info, contact email@example.com
On the web: langelierspc.com
There is a fine line between anxiety or nervousness that enhances OR inhibits performance; how do we as coaches help our athletes find the balance for a successful outcome?
This is such a common issue and it can even vary much from athlete to athlete depending on context: how big the race, perceived quality of training, etc. There are a few things I suggest coaches implement in their interactions with athletes re. race anxiety: First and most basic - remind them that what they’re experiencing is completely normal. Even the world’s best deal with pre-race nerves or anxiety - I know this first hand because a pro runner once told me this at a major marathon! Once they know they are not alone in their experience, I recommend helping the athlete shift their perspective towards the event; framing it as something challenging versus something threatening. The rationale behind that is that when humans are typically approached with a challenge, they are likely to move toward it. When something is seen as threatening or beyond their capacity, we often see hesitation.
Coaches often work with athletes who have a fear of failure; what can coaches do to help athletes overcome this fear?
The first thing I would recommend is to help them clearly define what success means to them. Another mechanism coaches can use is to help the athlete set a range of goals, such as a range of finish times (ex. A 3:30-3:40 Marathon, etc.) and incorporate ‘process goals’ for races and big workouts. Some examples of process goals are: starting on pace or finish on empty, use positive self-talk, etc. Giving athletes helpful reminders to set who they are apart from what they do is also a good thing for coaches to remind athletes of. Lastly, helping an athlete understand that failure is part of becoming a better athlete and an opportunity to learn cannot be emphasized enough. When an athlete comes into my office after an unsatisfactory performance, I encourage them to reframe failure into something they can use instead of a way to judge oneself and their abilities.
Additionally, how do you help athletes who have a fear of success?
This is a trickier one! Setting shorter term goals for these athletes to help them experience “little wins” along the way and get used to the way it feels to make progress. Asking an athlete about past achievements and positive experiences may help foster a more favorable response. One thing I find in runners is the belief that they can only run “so fast”, and tend to get fearful if they push to certain paces they are actually capable of running. Getting them to see paces as just numbers or if you suspect someone isn’t performing to their potential, perhaps experiment or have them experiment training without a watch and by effort. Just like dealing with fear of failure, a coach can never reinforce enough that running in the big picture does not define the athlete.
I think every coach has encountered an involved parent who simply wants the best for his/her athlete but ends up hindering them, either through competitive anxiety (wanting to please parents with outcome) or unrealistic expectations of the athlete’s ability or outcome. Do you have any advice for coaches in balancing a parent’s expectations with realistic goals for said athletes?
The first thing that pops into my head is to build it into team policy and what I mean by that is to set the expectation and clearly define the roles of the athlete, coach, and parent in the youth sport context. Parents are a support role, providing the basics of transportation, etc. and have the opportunity to encourage their athlete. Good coaches communicate some guidelines for dealing with success and failure, such as not discussing for an amount of time or praising effort and ‘showing up’ over results. Coaches provide the structure, instruction, and feedback. They also are in a great position to make a difference by encouraging their athletes, regardless of their talent or standing on the team. The athletes, it’s ultimately up to them how hard they choose to work. When all three entities are at least in some degree of congruence, good things can happen. Notice how the emphasis on effort on all fronts and enjoying the sport no matter what the level rings true here. Back to the guidelines or expectations, this can be done in meeting or letter format, and I recommend regularly checking in with athletes to determine if any levels of pressure exist. Also, I like to tell coaches that at the end of the day, they can only control so much - it is ultimately up to the athlete and their family to draw boundaries.
Do you have suggestions on how to help an athlete who is “burned out” or athlete who has past success but currently struggling?
If possible, find a way to help them find or reconnect with their “why” for doing the sport and remind the athlete that ups and downs are common and may help them grow. De-emphasizing results (see a theme here?!) and setting some short-term, realistic goals is often helpful. I encourage athletes who are dealing with setbacks or lack of success to “be where their feet are” and work from there, not past results. To be honest, I’ve experienced both burnout and being “victimized by past success” in my own running and found to take where I currently am and make steps from there. If necessary, discussing the option of time off or changing events/races/distances to spice things up may also be helpful, as is investing in other parts of themselves outside of running.
How do you manage a group of athletes who have different motivations, fears, and hopes?
Good question! First, the coach needs to realize that everyone has a different story and a different ‘why’ for what they do. If it is a team situation, I suggest having a talk early in the season to work towards a common goal or objective. Typically, if discussed collaboratively, groups of athletes can find ways to come together. Keeping open communication and listening to athletes is important as well - remind them that they are free to discuss concerns and ideas and acknowledge them accordingly, and initiate consideration to an athlete’s viewpoint. Communication and building relationships are key to understanding whom you’re working with and creates some cohesion in settings even when not everyone’s viewpoints completely align. Realize as a coach, you have the ability to set guidelines you think are best for the team and trust your training, experience, and instincts - if athletes feel that they are at least ‘heard’, the likelihood of buy-in to a program typically increases.
"De-emphasizing results and setting some short-term, realistic goals is often helpful. I encourage athletes who are dealing with setbacks or lack of success to “be where their feet are” and work from there, not past results."
The Women's Running Coaches Collective Talks Track and Field
@ the Nike NW HS Track and Field Clinic
Nike World Headquarters
January 12, 2019
L to R - Moderator Helene Hutchinson, Coaches Christi Smith-Ryan, Kathy Mills Parker, Christina Whitney, Nikki Rafie, Charlotte Lettis Richardson,
Robyn McGillis, Melissa Hill (taking photo!)
Part 2 - WRCC Panel Discussion @ the Nike NW Track and Field Clinic
The WOMEN'S RUNNING COACHES COLLECTIVE proudly presented "Women Coaches Talk Track and Field" - a panel of women coaches at the Nike NW HS Track and Field Clinic held at the Nike World Headquarters on January 12th, 2019. This incredible panel of women coaches came from all areas of track and field, and running. They included a former World Record holder, a NCAA Hepthalon Champion, one of the foremost hurdle coaches in the state of Oregon, a coaching veteran of 45 years, a marathon coaching specialist, a young and successful HS XC Coach, and a creator of Runner2Runner. Each shared their experiences, knowledge, and wisdom of being a female coach in a sport that is dominated by male coaches. They shared information about coaching and mentoring young athletes. Below is part 2 of the panel discussion. The topics range from competition anxiety, two sport athletes, coaching when you have small children, training plans for groups and individuals, engaging and getting athletes committed, finding the perfect 800 runner, and creating memorable moments with your team.
Coach Melissa Hill hurdling at Texas Tech c. 1980
What kind of advice could you give coaches for athletes who are doing a second sport during track and field, and cross country?
Communication between both sets of coaches and the athlete is key to making a successful two sport athlete. Coaches need to be diligent to communicate and work with the other coach and athlete to coordinate workouts. The last thing you want to do is overwork (leading to possible injury) an athlete. Make sure your athlete has an easy day after a hard effort. Checking daily morning heart rate is an easy way to check an athlete’s readiness for hard efforts.
We all want these kids to be healthy. This is high school. We want it to be fun! If there is a problem, address it with the athletes, parents and coaches. Keep them all involved! - Melissa Hill, Youth and Club Coach in Cross Country, Track and Distance Running
Coach Robyn McGillis
How involved should you be with the middle school programs in both track and field and cross country?
Being in touch with those middle school groups can greatly impact your program. Coming from a private school, Central Catholic on the east side of Portland, we are not as connected to some of those programs. We don’t have a feeder system directly to us. So it is actually a challenge. But just having the kids aware of your program, by word of mouth, is important. I have a youngster in the CYO program and I have been around those meets more and more. That’s been helpful because people see me. My daughter runs and so her friends know that I am a coach. So that gives me a purview into the world of middle school coaching and connections.
Schools that have middle school programs –
It helps introduce kids to the sport of track and field and cross country a little earlier, and it helps develop a love for it. You see what a more robust program at the middle school level can do. They are doing things like the Dynamic Warm Up.You are seeing kids that are a little better prepared, a little stronger, more ready for the rigors of the sport, ready for more mileage.They are more prepared athletically.
On coaching when you have small children –
When I started coaching, my kids were 4 and 7 years old. I really hesitated when I was approached to apply for a coaching position. I wasn’t sure I could balance it. My husband was integral in that. He said he grew up on the ice. His parents were ice hockey coaches in Canada. He said he would love it if our kids grew up being on the track or on the ice.
My first year was definitely challenging. I would bring the kids to practice with me. Trying to balancing that, and trying to learn to run a practice. Feeling I wasn’t 100% to what I was doing to any one thing. But that was the first year, and I got feedback from a parent saying she was so glad her daughter was seeing me out there, doing what I loved. So whenever I am having a hard time, I go back to that, take a deep breath, and remember why I am doing it. That it is important, not just for what you are doing for the moment, but for what young girls AND boys are seeing. - Robyn McGillis, Head Girls Cross Country Coach and Girls Track and Field Distance Coach, Central Catholic HS, Portland, Oregon
Coach Kathy Mills Parker
How do you help a runner with competition anxiety?
We all get nervous. I tell some of my athletes I had my best races when I was nervous. Use those nerves. They can be your power, your strength. They can push you.
I also say, “You are lucky to get to race. It is a great opportunity to test yourself and to see what you have got. So you should look at it and get excited. Make your nerves work for you. Feed off of that excitement because nervousness is excitement. Look at it as a good thing. Look at it as energy and strength. It will back you up.
What have you used in the past to create a confident team with less pre-performance nerves?
The example about qualifying for States as a team goal applies to Cross Country or perhaps a relay, where a team is working together toward this goal.They need to rely on each other to achieve this, by supporting each other in practices to perform at their best and push each other. By pushing each other, I mean challenging each other to train to their best ability, to believe and trust in each other.
Sometimes, teammates are not friends at first and building trust is challenging. I handle that issue by telling them that while they might not agree on details, the bigger goal should be clear and respected by all. And they need to work together toward that common goal, which is their bond.
As far as the pre race anxiety, teammates have the power and choice to bring out the best in each other, the pressure is spread evenly—each member contributes, and sometimes one or another has to pull more weight.
One exercise that can help a team prepare for a race is to have the team members talk together about the strengths of each member. Affirmation by and for each other builds confidence and ownership.
- Coach Kathy Parker, Cross Country and Track and Field Coach, Lincoln HS, Portland, Oregon
Coach Nikki Rafie
As a coach, how do you deal with a broad spectrum of athletes?
This is most relevant when I was coaching Team Athena, a club that had all abilities of women runners. I actually do a lot of planning behind the scenes, and bring in some discipline of progressive goal setting and measuring as we go. That’s what really helped behind the scenes. And something that is super important, especially if you coach a team or club, is you have to get to know everyone. Maybe it’s really difficult, but you somehow have to create a system that you get to know everyone and their goals.
I use an Excel program and I ask everyone to put in their names, and I create a little cheat sheet for myself. Sometimes I time them and jump in with them if I’m lucky and I can run with them! Getting them to say how they feel when they are running fast. Are they struggling or are they just not working hard enough? So making notes, not just time notes, but qualitative notes. Form and function and how they are feeling. Talk with them during a cool down or warm up. Connect with them and deal with them as human beings. You get to learn about them, understand them, empathize with them. You have to learn what motivates them.
On educating an athlete on their training plan –
“Because of social media everyone knows what everyone else is doing. And they think there is a better workout for them. You really have to educate them on why this is a customized plan for them. An educated and informed athlete is ultimately a more powerful athlete.
My approach to coaching has always been holistic--always quality not quantity. They don’t get into comparing mileage, workouts. They need to respect that the plan was made for them, and why it is working for them.
Coaching is an art and a science. What I have found is you have to be direct, open and honest with your athlete. An athlete, at the end of the day, makes themselves. We as coaches just guide them, but they must trust in the training. - Coach Nikki Rafie, Distance and Marathon Coach, Portland, Oregon
Coach Christina Whitney
As both a high school team coach and a club coach, what have you seen that works to get athletes engaged and committed to the sport of track and field?
I call it “buy in”. I’m all about getting to know more than the surface of an athlete. They have to buy into to what they are doing. If you are around kids or have kids, you know you can’t force them to do anything. You have to get them to buy in. I ask my kids “What is the plan? What are you here for? What do you want?" I’ve had kids say they want a state championship. I say, “Are you sure about that because if so we are going to go for it!” And some days they show up to practice and say, “I don’t want to do that.” And I say, “Well have your goals changed? Do you no longer want to win?” “Well no, Coach. I still want to be a state champion.” And I say, “Ok! Let’s go!” And it works. It’s amazing how these kids have strength and confidence and the commitment they put in when it is their goals and their story to tell. We are just people walking along side of them, guiding them.You are not their boss. You are just their mentor that helps them. You are the educated partner to help get them to where they want to go. - Christina Whitney, Top Oregon HS Hurdle Coach and Co Owner of the SGU Track Club
Coach Charlotte Lettis Richardson c. 1972
On loving to coach the 800m and what makes a great 800m runner -
Anytime the 800m is run, at a track meet, at the state meet, on TV, I drop everything to watch it. To me it is the most fascinating and strategic race in the whole track world. Nothing is more exciting than to see an 800m race unfold.
In looking for an 800m runner of course they have to have good speed and decent endurance. But I believe the biggest attribute needs to be courage.The 800 is not an easy event.You can get long sprinters, 200m and 400m athletes, to run a solid first lap. After that, they mentally need to be able to run that second lap hard, and its not just physical. They need to be brave.
You need to have athletes with race smarts, race intelligence and good instincts. Some runners just know what to do when the gun goes off. Some naturally assess what is going on in a race, and adjust. Look for that in a runner. Find those runners who know when to move, and when to stay. Find runners who can actually feel the condition of the other runners, and adjust their own races accordingly. You can coach this in a runner, but she or he needs to be willing to be coached. Try and find those naturals, those who have that extra sense that guides them in a race--those runners who have courage and natural race instincts. You can find that in runners of all levels, JV and varsity. - Charlotte Lettis Richardson, 45-year coaching veteran and former Lincoln HS Head Coach in Portland, Oregon, for 11 years
Coach Christi Smith-Ryan
What traits from being a former national caliber heptathlete do you think has helped you as a coach?
I'm really trying to build memorable moments with my team. When I go back to think about all the championships I’ve won, probably the most memorable moment was coming back into Hayward Field after my championship performance, and having my coach then take me to the ocean for the very first time. He took me to Cannon Beach and for me it created a memorable moment.
I actually don’t talk to my team about winning at all. I try to not use the “W” word. There are a lot of things in order to get there that the kids have to work on at this level. When a kid says he wants to win, I say, “Ok you need to give me 30 minutes of your time for a realistic chat. You need to be clear of what that means (winning a championship).
My expectations are really high. I don’t sugar coat anything. I think my parents, my staff, my kids know it is all about the synergy, the positive working environment, the focus when we are on the track. Everyone stays till the end of the 4 X 400m!
Camaraderie needs to be built on the bus. I try to ride the bus every chance I get just so I can talk to my kids! I try to check in with each and everyone of my kids. I want them to know they have access to me, that parents have access to me. Don’t email me! Contact me directly. Call me.
It’s important they can feel your passion (as a coach).They all know how successful you are.They have all read your bio.They know how fortunate they are BUT in the end if you can create those memorable moments they are going to recruit others. The water will find its own level. - Coach Christi Smith-Ryan, Head Track and Field Coach, Central Catholic HS, Portland, Oregon
Thanks to our Great Moderator - Helene Hutchinson
Joan Benoit Samuelson racing at 2018 Freihofer's 5K
Photo by Kevin Morris @ www.kevmofoto.com
Probably no female distance runner in U.S. history has done more to shine a light on our sport than Joan Benoit Samuelson. The petite Mainer has a long and storied running career that spans from her time at Bowdoin College and North Carolina State (where she helped the Wolfpack win an ACC Championship) in the 70s through to the present where she sets marathon age records. Her story of winning the 1984 Olympic Trials Marathon, the inaugural edition, three weeks after knee surgery is legendary. However, her debut at the 1984 Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles established her as an instant star. Breaking from the pack at an early water station, Joanie ran the remaining 21 miles alone, entering the Coliseum to finish in 2:24:52, a record that stood until 2012. And although she has set many running records while her younger self, it is her commitment to running excellence as she ages that also stands out. In 2008 she ran a sub-2:50 marathon (2:49:08) at the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon at age 50 and 2:47:50 at the Chicago Marathon in 2010. Joanie continues to be a goodwill ambassador to running, giving motivational speeches and coaching fitness clinics around the world. For those who would like to learn more about this remarkable woman, there is her book, Running Tide by Joan Benoit, Sally Baker, Collaborator, or the documentary, “There Is No Finish Line: The Joan Benoit-Samuelson Story.” - Laura Caldwell
Joan Benoit Samuelson and daughter Abby Samuelson finishing the 2018 Chicago Marathon
Photo by Kevin Morris @ www.kevmofoto.com
1. You have been coached by many coaches over the years, in high school, college, club and your professional career. Could you name several coaches who stand out in your mind because of their coaching style or philosophy? What did you take from them that impacted your running?
High School Coach....Keith Weatherbie
College....played field hockey for first two years at Bowdoin. Was coached by Russ Combs and the late Jim Wescott at NCSU.
Coached by Lynn Ruddy and the late Frank Sabasteanski at Bowdoin when I came back from NCSU.
Coached by John Babington when I ran for Liberty AC and Bob Sevene when I ran for Athletics West.
Keith Weatherbie, John Babington and Bob Sevene had the most influence on me. They expected a lot and knew how to handle workouts and athletes so the workouts always flowed smoothly. John was an avid runner and Sev often ran with me. John and Sev had a deep understanding of the runner's psyche. Mutual respect between athlete and coach is very important so is the chemistry of personalities.
2. As one of the most successful women's distance runners of all times, with decades of sub 3-hour marathons and faster on your resume, can you tell us about your approach to training over the years? You have been self-coached more than you have been coached. How did that evolve, and how did you approach it?
Keep it simple. Run the way you feel. The athlete knows her own body and how it responds from workouts better than any trainer or coach. I have always run the way I feel on any given day. If anything, I cut myself short on rest and don't take enough easy days. Learning this as I age.
My three key workouts for marathon training at the height of my career starting three months ahead of the actual marathon date: Long run of 20 miles; medium-long run of 12-15; one speed workout that could be either a track workout, tempo or race. All other runs were run with the energy and stamina I had at the particular time. When I was training twice a day, I felt as though the morning workout maintained my fitness and the afternoon session improved my fitness because I was always training at a deficit after a morning workout.
3. As you look back over your career, what training do you wish you had done more of? What training do you wish you had not done? In hindsight, what type of training works best for you? What is a signature "speed" workout for JBS?
See above. No real regrets except for perhaps not tapering enough.
Signature workouts: 10 x 400m with 200m jog recovery throughout my career before children.
High School: 1 x mile, 2 x 800m, 4 x 400m, 8 x 200m, devised by Coach Weatherbie.
College: Different ladder workouts depending on the coach.
As I moved to more marathons, I did a lot of mile repeats (4-6) with half the number of 800s and 400s.
Photo by Kevin Morris @ www.kevmofoto.com
4. As you have gotten older, how has your training and racing changed? What things do you do differently than 20 years ago? How have you adjusted to being an older distance runner?
More cross training. For the last several years, I have done a lot of Nordic skiing in the winter. In recent years, I have started to do a fair amount of road cycling. Nordic skiing provides a great upper body workout. I think the more closely upper body strength resembles leg strength, the more efficient a runner is going to be.
After having children, I stopped double training sessions except on winter weekends when I often Nordic ski and run on the same day. My mileage has decreased to about half of what it used to be at the height of my career. I haven't done track workouts since being a young mother with the hopes of avoiding injuries.
5. We know you have coached over the years. What are your thoughts about being a coach, and how did you approach coaching? What do you think the role of a coach should be?
A mentor, first and foremost. A coach should exude passion and understand that every athlete comes to the sport with different objectives and goals and know how to schedule workouts appropriately based on the ability, talent, and work ethic of the athlete. John and Sev (Bob Sevene) possessed both of these traits or abilities.
6. Every runner has experienced adversity in her/his running career. You have been so successful in dealing with physical setbacks and rebounding with success. How have you dealt with these adversities and been able to come back even stronger? (ex: Your injury/surgery before the Olympic Trials in 1984) How do you stay strong and motivated?
Passion and the ability to not focus on all the noise surrounding the injury or challenge. I think passion can lead to a strong will. Mind over matter if you will. No pun intended.
7. What do you think drew you to distance running and racing? What ignited your passion to run, and what continues to motivate you?
Love for challenge and the outdoors. Testing my abilities and limits. Always being comfortable in the environment in which I choose to train. Sometimes I think athletes move around too much and would probably perform better if they found an ideal training location for themselves and stayed put. Being able to focus on feelings in an environment that is familiar is what I attribute to my mental toughness, if you want to call it that. :)Kevin Morris @ www.kevmofoto.c
A very Big Thank You to photographer Kevin Morris for the beautiful photos of Joan Benoit Samuelson and family! www.kevmofoto.com
Coming up in the January 31 Newsletter, the WRCC is proud to announce an interview with Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic Gold Medalist in the first Women's Marathon in 1984. Joan will talk about coaches and coaching, and her amazing running experiences over the last 40 plus years!
The Women's Running Coaches Collective Talks Track and Field
@ the Nike NW HS Track and Field Clinic
Nike World Headquarters
January 12, 2019
L to R - Moderator Helene Hutchinson, Coaches Christi Smith-Ryan, Kathy Mills Parker, Christina Whitney, Nikki Rafie, Charlotte Lettis Richardson, Robyn McGillis, Melissa Hill (taking the photo!)
The WOMEN'S RUNNING COACHES COLLECTIVE proudly presented "Women Coaches Talk Track and Field" - a panel of women coaches at the Nike NW HS Track and Field Clinic held at the Nike World Headquarters on January 12th, 2019. This incredible panel of women coaches came from all areas of track and field, and running. They included a former World Record holder, a NCAA Hepthalon Champion, one of the foremost hurdle coaches in the state of Oregon, a coaching veteran of 45 years, a marathon coaching specialist, a young and successful HS XC Coach, and a creator of Runner2Runner. Each shared their experiences, knowledge, and wisdom of being a female coach in a sport that is dominated by male coaches. They shared information about coaching and mentoring young athletes. Below are some of the answers given during the panel discussion at the Nike NW HS Track and Field Clinic. We will continue to share these words of wisdom over the next few weeks. Stay tuned!
Coach Christi Smith-Ryan
On being a former national champion in the heptathlon and how that has helped with coaching -
"A little background on my story. I was just a long jumper and sprinter in high school, and my coach recognized my athletic ability. So I literally learned 5 additional events in the heptathlon.You learn very quickly that it's really not the work you do. It's about training smarter, not harder, getting control of your emotions when you are out there, and at the end of the day have the confidence in what you do. So my experiences really helped shape how I express, explain to my coaches, parents, my team how to build confidence. They have to self perceive they can do it. I think nothing can happen without a vision and instilling confidence. There are a lot of things we do to instill confidence because if kids don’t perceive they can do it, they won’t."
- Christi Smith-Ryan, Head Track and Field Coach, Central Catholic High School, Portland, Oregon, Former NCAA Champion in the Heptathlon
Coach Kathy Mills Parker
On being a successful HS and College runner, how has that helped you in coaching young athletes -
"Just being familiar with the type of competitions they are encountering. Honestly, a competition is a competition. A race is a race. And it doesn’t matter if you are at the top level or the bottom level, it's still the same thing.You have to manage your own energy, your own mind, manage every moment that unfolds, and so I think that has affected the way I coach. Having been there is the probably biggest thing as a coach. Ironically having competed at the highest level I was someone who was very injury prone, I think I had a year and a half of healthy training my entire career. And so that gave me another filter to help with people that are going through struggles. That’s been important in my work as a coach."
- Kathy Mills Parker, Former World Record Holder in the 5K, Veteran XC and T & F Coach of 15 years at Lincoln HS, Portland, Oregon
Coach Melissa Hill
On what is the "Goldilocks Approach" and how do you know what is "just right" for each athlete -
"I'm fascinated and a little obsessed on how to best build workouts for each one of my runners. I call this the "Goldilocks Approach". I want to find just the right workout for each athlete because each one of them is unique. So of course we do athlete assessments, we do intake forms when they first arrive as freshman and then each year of high school. We also do pre- and post-race evaluations. I keep these forms for the athletes to read over, and they are hilarious! I've kept them with me for years (and 3 moves) and I still laugh! High schoolers have a great sense of humor!
I found out when I moved from Oregon to Missouri how lifestyles affect our runners. Kids who are more active are not as injury prone as kids who come from more sedentary lifestyles. I realized you had to be on top of this to prevent injury and manage expectations. Runners come from totally different backgrounds and so I had to be hyper focused on what their background was, what they did for fun, and what they did with their parents in their free time. What was their sport background? And I used all that stuff plus other coaching tools to create workouts. And I asked simple things. "Why are you running?", "Why are you out here?" "What motivates you?", "What is your best running experience" and "What is your worst running experience". And that helps me plan their workouts.
I'm all about fun! They still think I'm crazy in Missouri! We did crazy stuff. We turned on the music and did fartleks to music. We built waterslides during heat restricted days, we just had fun and I think that's what kids need. Kids are going to walk away from HS and what is their memory? "I did this workout and I threw up?" (We did do some of that!) I think they are going to walk away and remember they had a good time and we created a team atmosphere. "
- Melissa Hill, Founder of Runner2Runner and Veteran Coach of Youth, High School, Club and Adult Runners
Coach Nikki Rafie
On dealing with an athlete who has had a disappointing performance -
"Who has not had this problem, right? I always keep the end with that in mind especially coming from the marathon. There are only so many things you can control and there are many things that are outside of your control. So first, I try to set the right expectation of what that success looks like for them. When I give them a goal for their performance, it's not just a time goal or a range of times, but I'll pick something that makes them feel good about what they are learning about themselves, about their execution, and their performance. So there are always positive and negatives coming from it . . . I'm trying to set us up for success! But seriously, right after the race, it is a good time to reflect and unpack: What happened and why are you feeling disappointed? They may have done fine and they are still feeling disappointed. I look for things that are actionable instead of just being hard on themselves and saying, "I’m not good enough or I'm not fit enough or I am never going to get it." "I'm just not that runner or hurdler or that marathoner" or whatever that may be. We talk about their race plan, did they stay focused or lose their head somewhere along the way? What they did the day before, did they rest? "Yup, I rested. I just went for a 90-minute hot yoga!" well, that’s not rest! "Did you hydrate", "no". And so now it's not really about them but about some contributing factor that we can do something with. That gets them past that blame game of being disappointed and back to what they are going to do better. Then, I try and follow that in the next couple of weeks with some good confidence building workouts. A time trial, something that reminds them of who they are, how good they are, and what they can do. I set them up for success for the next one. I am not shy to remind them no more hot yoga, no more 90-min basketball with your brother if you are tapering/resting. Make it fun for them as well as let them know it is about them, they are in control, and they can go out there and fight for it!"
- Nikki Rafie, Marathon Coaching Specialist, and Winner of the Portland Marathon
Coach Christina Whitney
On what traits do you look for in an athlete that might make a successful hurdler -
"This is a multi-level question. There are beginning level hurdlers, and there are really great hurdlers who are going on to be top level hurdlers. So you are going to have, especially in a high school season, the whole range. I’m not one to take a kid and have them come over and try hurdles and say, “Yes this is going to be for you when it really is not going to be for them.” Because you want them to feel successful, you want them to feel good about track and field and find a place they can feel successful. I am really honest with kids and say this may not be your event, but let's find something that will be your event. There has got to be something out here that you can be really good at . . . so let's find it! For hurdlers you need to have some coordination, you need to be able to skip with some rhythm, you need to have some flexibility, you cannot have a kid who cannot lift his leg high enough to get over the hurdle!"
- Christina Whitney, Top Oregon HS Hurdle Coach and Co Owner of the SGU Track Club
Coach Robyn McGillis
On how do you build a cohesive team -
"The key pieces are empowerment, building leaders, and conflict resolution. So with empowerment and leadership development I really want the girls to own the team and feel that they are building the team. So it starts for me with the team captains. When we elect those team captains (this goes back to my HR background) I have a job description that I pass out to the entire team of the expectations of being a team captain. I ask the girls if they are interested to submit an application and answer a few questions to why they want to be team captains. I have the team vote and tell me why they are nominating somebody. At the end of the day it is my decision, but I take all of that information into consideration. I don't want it to be a popularity contest. I truly want it to be someone who is up to the challenge of building a team and creating an environment we are looking for at CC.
For the accountability piece, the thing I have found over the past 3-4 years is called "I Commit". Once the team captains are in place, we meet and look at last year and the "I commit" papers and the list of tenets they want the team to be about. They want to hold each other accountable through the season such as, "We want to confront things with our team members face to face",
"That we are diligent with training", "We do all the right things", "We are on top of our grades". They change from year to year depending on the leadership that is in place but they help come up with that and they present it to the team."
- Robyn McGillis, Director of Track and Field Operations, Head Girls Cross Country Coach, Girls Distance Coach in Track and Field at Central Catholic High School, Portland, Oregon
Coach Charlotte Lettis Richardson
On being a long time Head Coach and planning your season -
"Your job as a Head Coach of a Track and Field Team is to look at the big picture. Many of us go into coaching because we love the sport. But being a Head Coach is so much more than just having a passion for Track and Field or Cross Country. You are a manager of people, your Assistant Coaches, and they in turn manage their events and the athletes.
You have to start early to plan your season. Months in advance you need to make sure you have all the assistant coaches in place. Staff meetings should begin in early fall, and each meeting needs to cover aspects of the season ahead. Job descriptions and expectations for each coach on the staff, goal setting as individual coaches and as a coaching staff need to be completed. A Mission Statement for the season is so very important. Spend time with your coaches in making sure you are all on the same page in terms of values and goals. Equipment inventory, scheduling of meets, and coaching credentials need to be updated. Every aspect of the team, including athletes, needs to be planned for and anticipated. None of this can be done a week before the season begins. You must start early to be successful.
Finally you need to plan the first day and the first week. Every coach must be cleared by your district and ON the track and field the first day of practice. This first day must run like clockwork. Know what will happen every minute of that first practice. This will set the tone for the entire season. Plan early and end successful!y!"
- Charlotte Lettis Richardson, 45-year coaching veteran and former Lincoln HS Head Coach in Portland, Oregon, for 13 years
Thanks to our Great Moderator - Helene Hutchinson
We exist to support, unite, inform, inspire, encourage and empower women coaches at all levels of our sport.